President Donald Trump’s apparent deal with Democrats to shield some undocumented immigrants from deportation — without demanding funding for a border wall — is dividing some of his most ardent conservative backers.
Breitbart News called the president “Amnesty Don.” Commentator Ann Coulter mused about impeaching Trump. And hard-line immigration hawks in Congress like Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) called the contours of the deal an “irreparable” betrayal of Trump’s base.
“Trump base is blown up, destroyed, irreparable, and disillusioned beyond repair,” King tweeted. “No promise is credible.”
But many conservatives on Capitol Hill made clear this week that there is, in fact, a window for the president to win buy-in from the right for a deal that would protect some undocumented immigrants — those who arrived in the country as minors — in exchange for stepped-up immigration enforcement measures.
Interviews with more than a dozen conservative lawmakers — prior to Wednesday night’s Trump-Pelosi-Schumer session — suggest that many envision a deal much like the one Trump and Democratic leaders purportedly reached. The real test will be what kind of border security measures Democrats are willing to stomach, and whether the right will insist on a border wall despite Trump’s decision to put it off.
“I think [a deal] is entirely possible if we try to get the political rhetoric out of it and actually look for real solutions,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, told reporters Wednesday. “We’re going to have to deal with it. So we might as well put forth a conservative effort to deal with the immigration issue broadly.”
Trump has indicated repeatedly that he favors protection for the approximately 800,000 undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as minors and were protected by an Obama-era program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Trump had pledged during the 2016 campaign to rescind the program. And earlier this month, he made good on that promise when, facing the threat of legal action, he canceled the program but established a six-month window for lawmakers to cut a deal to protect DACA recipients.
Now, Trump is working with Democratic leaders to make those protections permanent, but only in exchange for what he describes as “massive” immigration enforcement measures.
Throughout the week, conservative lawmakers identified what some of those measures might look like. In many cases, they said they’d at least consider to bundling DACA protections with a broader immigration package — one that might include reforms to visa programs, an e-Verify system for employers and restrictions on access to benefit programs for undocumented immigrants.
“I think it has a much better chance, a much higher chance of passing if it does include stepped up border security,” said Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas). “We were promised border security in exchange for amnesty under Reagan and we never got the border security … I’ve got to see what the final proposal is.”
“My first inclination is that I feel sorry for the [800,000] here, but we do have a law, and their parents violated the law. So, I’m not there yet … but I’m willing to look at a proposal,” added Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.)
There were indications, too, that Trump’s base was regrouping after some initial concern about the president’s deal.
“Why did we elect a great negotiator if we were going to freak every time he negotiates?” wondered Bill Mitchell, the omnipresent Trump ally whose tweets often mirror the base’s thinking.
And Sebastian Gorka, who recently left the White House, offered his own advice to Trump supporters: “Every1 needs to just calm down & remember who @realDonaldTrump is & what he has ALREADY done for us,” Gorka tweeted. “Stay the course.”